BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama judge on Thursday threw out the state's system for imposing the death penalty the same day Florida lawmakers passed a bill to revamp a similar sentencing mechanism.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd sided with defense attorneys who had cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that Florida's law was unconstitutional.
The sentencing mechanism at stake, known as judicial override, allows judges to impose the death penalty in cases where the jury recommends life without parole.
The Florida Legislature on Thursday passed a bill that would require at least 10 out of 12 jurors recommend the death penalty for it to be carried out.
Todd's decision bars prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against four men charged in three slayings. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said Todd's ruling is limited to the four cases and is not a "general pronouncement" for the state.
In her 28-page ruling, Todd called the practice a "life-to-death override epidemic" and questioned Alabama's partisan judicial elections.
"There is a time and place for diplomacy and subtlety," Todd wrote. "That time and place has been expunged by the dire state of the justice system in Alabama. It is clear, from here on the front line, that Alabama's judiciary has unequivocally been hijacked by partisan interests and unlawful legislative neglect."
Prosecutors argued Alabama's law was different in key aspects from Florida's law, but Todd disagreed.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said his office is reviewing Todd's order and expects to file an appeal.
"Alabama's capital sentencing statutes are constitutional," Strange said. "Just yesterday the Alabama Supreme Court denied the appeal of a capital murder defendant who had filed a similar pre-trial motion, and the Court refused to declare Alabama's capital statute's unconstitutional."